Bollywood fan to aspiring jihadist: Confessions of an Islamic State suspect
Experts believe there is more than one factor that could spur a person to embrace the Islamic State’s ideology. While there are some who believe in dying and killing fellow humans for the sake of God, others are spurred more by their own troubled past than religious motivations.india Updated: May 10, 2017 20:47 IST
Among the ranks of suspected sympathisers of the Islamic State is a 23-year-old man from Bengaluru, who was arrested in December last year. Dozens of Indian youth have been held for owing allegiance to the terror group, but what sets Abid Khan apart from the others is his history – as revealed to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
According to an interrogation report accessed by HT, Khan used to question the very nature of God and had spent many a session discussing his spiritual quandary with Christian pastors. In fact, before getting swayed by the Islamic State, Khan would often spend hours mulling over the “true nature of God”. He was also an avid watcher of Bollywood movies.
Khan had completed most of his education from madrassas, staying with his family in Bengaluru. He remained with the Tablighi Jamaat from 2007 to 2010, and later taught at a madrassa for a lowly pay of Rs 1,500 a month.
He first began reading on middle-eastern politics – including the Israel-Palestine conflict – in 2013. Two years later, he learnt about the Islamic State through Twitter. One such Twitter handle that shaped his ideology was the Ahwaal Ummat. Within no time, he found himself in Telegram groups filled with Islamic State sympathisers, where they would discuss the caliphate and its workings.
Interestingly, one of these conversations accessed by the NIA had Khan recommending Sonam Kapoor-starrer Neerja – the cinematic depiction of a real-life flight purser during the hijacking of a plane at Karachi in 1986 – to Sameer, a resident of Chennai.
When confronted by NIA officials, Khan said his interactions with Islamic State recruiters were aimed at examining the veracity of their claims. “Khan wanted to confirm if the claims of an established caliphate in Mosul were true,” documents of his interrogation read.
However, his dream of travelling to Syria crashed with the arrest of three youngsters – Asif Ali, Mohammed Afzal and Syed Mujahid – in 2016. Following this, Khan changed tack. He approached pastors at the All Nations Church in Bengaluru, with whom he had been in touch since 2013, and convinced them that he wanted to convert to Christianity.
The pastors were so impressed with Khan that they even sponsored an evangelical trip to Sri Lanka, and later posted him at a church in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh. He was in the process of convincing pastors about his dream to build a church in Indonesia, a country where his girlfriend supposedly resided, when NIA personnel finally picked him up in December last year. According to investigators, Khan was just looking for a way to get out of the country.
His interrogation has prompted the NIA to take a hard look at the background of suspected Islamic State recruits.
Earlier this year, the investigation agency had conducted a first-of-its-kind socio-economic analysis of 52 suspected Islamic State radicals. One-fifth of them had been educated in madrassas, and almost everybody was radicalised online. They wanted to either flee India or carry out violent attacks in the country, officials claimed.
The rising number of such terror suspects in India has prompted Animesh Roul, an expert on the Islamic State, to conduct an extensive study of its recruitment methods. “There are people who question God’s existence, and then there are those willing to die or take lives for the sake of an angry God. Recruits to the so-called holy war are drawn from both physical and virtual echo chambers, be it social media platforms or madrassas. Some youngsters, who have minimal knowledge of Islam, suddenly start thinking of themselves as saviors of fellow-Muslims everywhere. Scanning every piece of Islamic State propaganda used for targeting Indian and South Asian Muslims will help us understand how they go about motivating the more vulnerable,” he told HT.
NIA inspector general Alok Mittal says India’s response to the Islamic State movement should not be restricted to just investigating suspects and potential recruits. “Prevention is key. Engagement with the youth is essential to the extent that when radical propaganda reaches them, they should be able to judge bad from good,” he said.
Terrorism expert Kabir Tanjeja believes there is more than one factor that could spur a person to embrace the Islamic State’s ideology. “While some recruits are driven by the idea of a global caliphate, others are radicalised by past experiences. For instance, the Paris attacker was influenced more by his own violent past than strong political leanings. Ideologies like that of the Islamic State attract such individuals, and that’s dangerous,” he said.